In every moment of exposure to media and social networking channels, thousands of voices of brands could be heard – advertising; each of it trying to say it’s better than the one next to it or the one before it – differentiation; vary their voice to say that it’s sleeker, trendier or more professional, stronger or richer, the perfect product for a perfect person like you – brand positioning.
But how good these voices are to a listener depends on how a customer is approached. You can just hit a tin can and walk around town, or you can take some flags and march across it, alternatively send out players of the specific instrument that plays just the correct note at the correct pitch for the correct listener; doesn’t this sound more like an integrated communications strategy?
Today, we serve customers while being on dual role mode. But why do organisations find it hard to realise what makes a customer stay?
Apple – the all time brand of innovation – can pitch on its customer’s loyalty, since Apple’s feats on leveraging technology are far superior to any other player in the market. Today, it has become a benchmark brand for technology. And those who have identified this trait vouch on it, which has sustained the brand in leaner times. Being the best in the product offer may not always save you from economic crunches. Fundamentally strong brands such as Coca Cola, Harley Davidson and Amazon have been in existence for generations because they deliver unique benefits and are able to instil a unique relationship with its users, and thus establish relationships.
In theory, there are four types of loyal customers, maybe even more. In the market, as far as objectives are concerned, only one type matters – the loyal. We don’t frame objectives to keep the customer with us for four months and then expect him to purchase another brand, but we expect him to be with us as far as the business entity stays on – to infinity. In that case, it is your brand that defines the level of service you offer; the levels of service offered is the face value of the brand, for which a customer decides to join. Sir Richard Branson created a voice for his brand. From the point of ‘talking’ to the customers to dealing with banks, he created a culture which customers grew a liking for and this is reflected in every point of interface, advertising, launches, employees and the products itself. If Virgin music defines your personality, Virgin Radio would probably be the only interface of music that matters to you.
Steve Jobs created a voice for Apple through innovation. Apple’s line of products instilled perceptions of trendsetters in e-appliance users, redefining the market of ‘mobility’. If you have a spark in your eye for neat, sophisticated technology, not a day would pass by without using an Apple device.
In most cases, companies pitch the service to suit the brand and in the process become overambitious, and couple of months later realise the customer does not work out for them. On the other hand, the service projection would be either too weak to even rate it as being polite. First, each brand name should be given a definition, which has nothing to do with mission of vision statements. A definition will reflect a brand’s personality traits – what it is supposed to do. This is the benchmark that should be set in for communications. If the brand is trendy and outgoing, it is important for these traits to be reflected in each of its processes – faster delivery, friendlier interactions. If your brand is defined as being reliable and professional, professionalism should start from the receptionist and reflect in all communication material, processes and presentations. It is an expectation a customer comes for and that expectation may be one-off or repetitive. Either way, a smile and positive experience will stay on for years rather than a weary face and stretched smile, irrespective of the broader definition of your brand.
At the same time, having a brand ambassador and testimonials is strong and it drives the message through. But what makes a customer remain loyal is to make each customer and employee be the ambassador and make them testify for the brand, because the cost of instilling loyalty towards the brand is the service provided and how long it takes to create a relationship out of it.
(The writer is a Chartered Marketer and holds a BBM from the Bangalore University. She could be reached via email@example.com.)